Washington — President Donald Trump told Republican senators Tuesday that the House-passed health care bill he helped revive is “mean” and urged them to craft a version that is “more generous,” congressional sources said.
Trump’s remarks were a surprising slap at a Republican-written House measure that was shepherded by Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and whose passage the president lobbied for and praised. At a Rose Garden ceremony minutes after the bill’s narrow House passage on May 4, Trump called it “a great plan.”
The president’s criticism, at a White House lunch with 15 GOP senators, also came as Senate Republican leaders’ attempts to write their own health care package have been slowed by disagreements between their party’s conservatives and moderates.
Trump’s characterizations seemed to undercut attempts by Senate leaders to assuage conservatives who want restrictions in their chamber’s bill, such as cutting the Medicaid health care program for the poor and limiting the services insurers must cover. Moderate GOP senators have been pushing to ease those restrictions.
Facing expected unanimous Democratic opposition, Republicans will be unable to pass a Senate bill if just three of the 52 GOP senators vote “no.” Alienating any of them could make approving the measure trickier for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s been hoping for a vote before Congress’ July 4 recess.
Trump’s comments were described by two GOP congressional sources who received accounts of Tuesday’s White House lunch. They spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal a closed-door conversation.
Their descriptions of Trump’s words differed slightly.
One source said Trump called the House bill “mean, mean, mean” and said, “We need to be more generous, more kind.” The other source said Trump used a vulgarity to describe the House bill and told the senators, “We need to be more generous.”
Two other congressional GOP officials confirmed that the general descriptions of Trump’s words were accurate.
The sources say the president did not specify what aspects of the bill he was characterizing.
White House aides declined to talk on the record about Trump’s words. One said, “We aren’t going to comment on rumors about private conversations that may or may not have happened.”
The remarks provided ammunition to Democrats who have unanimously opposed the Republican effort to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
“Americans won’t forget that @HouseGOP passed a ‘mean’ bill to rip healthcare from millions then celebrated @ the WH,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Asked to comment on Trump’s remarks about the House measure, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said, “Congressional Republicans, with President Trump’s support, are working to repeal and replace this terrible Obamacare law that is harming Americans.”
Meadows, who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said, “I have no knowledge of the president characterizing the health care bill in any other way than to suggest that we need to lower premiums and protect people with pre-existing conditions.”
Health insurer to expand exchanges
Health insurer Centene announced plans Tuesday to expand into more Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges for next year, at a time when competitors are either pulling back from those markets or proposing steep price hikes to remain.
The insurer said it will start offering coverage on exchanges in Missouri, Kansas and Nevada. It also will expand its presence in Florida, Ohio, Texas and Washington, among other states.
A Centene spokeswoman said that the company wouldn’t have details on where it will expand in those states until regulators review its plans.
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